Residents run from a police armoured vehicle during a protest demanding the police account for the death of a teenage boy who was allegedly shot b police the previous night in Eldorado park, south of Johannesburg. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Residents run from a police armoured vehicle during a protest demanding the police account for the death of a teenage boy who was allegedly shot b police the previous night in Eldorado park, south of Johannesburg. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

SA politicians have a history of exhorting the police to violence. In 2008, deputy safety & security minister Susan "Bang-Bang" Shabangu told officers to "kill the bastards if they threaten you or the community. You must not worry about the regulations."

It was a sentiment echoed by police minister Nathi Mthethwa in 2009: "We are tired of waving nice documents like the constitution and the human rights charter in criminals’ faces."

In 2017, then police minister Fikile Mbalula told police to "shoot to kill" if they came under fire. Bheki Cele, in the hat of KwaZulu-Natal community safety MEC, was reportedly all for shooting first (he’s denied using the words "shoot to kill"). More recently, wearing his police minister fedora, Cele responded to questions about alleged police brutality during lockdown with: "Wait until you see more force."

So it’s not surprising that SA is stuck in a violent Groundhog Day where individual rights are so often trampled by the jackboot of the state. It is, after all, coming from the top — and has been for a long time. The lockdown, however, seems to have entrenched and emboldened this sense of impunity, with 16-year-old Nathaniel Julies its most recent victim.

It’s heartening that the police complaints directorate has acted so quickly. But that won’t allay fears about the kind of force we’ll be left with post-Covid.

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